Regulating garage salesAug 11, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher
Let's be sure there's a significant community problem before writing new law
There are lots of garage sales in Riverton this time of year. Some people, apparently, think there are too many, and the city council is considering a new local ordinance to regulate garage sales.
The idea is to limit the number of sales that could take place in the same place over a given period of time. There have been complaints about garage sales taking place repeatedly at certain addresses, sometimes as many as half a dozen times during a single summer. Some say the effect has been to turn the areas into de facto commercial zones when they are supposed to be residential. Riverton is a well-zoned city, with residential protections in place for good reasons. A breach of those protections is a serious matter.
As proposed, the ordinance would permit no more than three garage sales at one address during a calendar year, with each sale limited to three days or fewer.
It's hard to say exactly how often the garage-sale overload is occurring, and over how big an area, but apparently there are enough serial garage-sale proprietors, at leastpotentially, that the city feels the urge to try and regulate them.
A longtime Wyoming legislator once told us that a new law, ordinance or regulation ought to be considered only under certain circumstances.
Can an actual civic problem be defined and quantified? Does the problem have a negative effect on a significant number of people - enough, in other words, to warrant adding a new law? Would the law solve the problem? Is it enforceable and affordable? If public safety is not a concern, will the citizens accept the law, obey it, and support those who created it and must enforce it?
Perhaps most of these factors are in place already, or soon will be, but the premise seems half-baked at the moment. The city ought to gather and present some solid data before deciding to clamp down on garage sales, which some people rely on for real financial support.
There may be more to it than we know, but in the initial reading of the proposal, a city official said the impetus for considering the ordinance was "complaints from some of the neighbors" about continuous garage sales. That's a start, but it might not be enough to justify rewriting local city code.
One hope would be that conversations among neighbors in the affected area might solve the problem short of creating a city ordinance. Perhaps a city official could join in as a facilitator of those talks.
If study truly revealed a significant problem for Riverton, and if an added layer of ordinance really could solve it, then this might well be warranted. Barring that evidence, however, the city might re-evaluate the idea of over-regulating this all-American form of free enterprise.
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